The Transformative Power of Sabbaticals [Harvard Business Review]

by Kira Schabram, Matt Bloom, and DJ DiDonna

Burnout, meaningless work, and stalled careers continue to contribute to a historic number of workers quitting (or quiet quitting). How can these people craft work that is truly better?

Our research suggests that one answer is to take a sabbatical — an extended break from your job lasting long enough for you to truly distance yourself from your normal work life.

In recent years, the number of employers offering sabbaticals has grown exponentially. In addition, many more workers, especially employees in managerial and professional roles, are taking their own unpaid sabbaticals when their organizations fail to offer them. Both groups need to know: What are the major benefits of a sabbatical? And how can a sabbatical be structured to maximize its benefits? While a host of memoirs and practitioner guides claim to have answers, these are largely based on anecdotes and opinions.

Our rigorous study of professionals who took a sabbatical found that people largely experienced significant, positive changes in their work and life. Our 50 interviewees worked in a variety of private, public, and non-profit organizations from diverse sectors including consulting, design, finance, medicine, education, and technology, all located in the United States. Their ages ranged from 20s to 40s. Women and men were equally represented, and slightly less than half identified as a person of color. All held college degrees. More than half paid for their own sabbatical.

We dug deep into their experiences before, during, and after their sabbaticals to map what made their time away so transformative. Our work offers important practical insights for employees and employers alike.

The three Types of Sabbaticals

  • Working holidays
  • Free dives
  • Quests

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